Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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“Lamentations” is Nissenson’s most fully developed death of
God short story. The tale occurs in Israel during the War of
Attrition. Uri, the unwed father of Elana’s unborn child, is killed
in action. Yigael, his best friend, agrees to be best man at a
wedding ceremony Elana has arranged at the Bet Hakerem mil­
itary cemetary. Yigael raises the central question in Holocaust
literature, when he tries to imagine “who would speak for the
dead?” Stopping in a cafe, Yigael and Elana give their order
to a waiter. The waiter, “surprisingly fast on his feet for a crip­
ple,” is a Polish Holocaust survivor and a religious Jew. The
Israelis are both secularists. When the check arrives, Yigael won­
ders what the rush is. The waiter, in turn, asks a significant
question. “You call yourself a Jew? Tonight’s the beginning of
Tisha b’Av.”
The story is essentially a midrash on Tisha b’Av, the day on
which according to the rabbis (Ta’anith 29a) both the first and
second destruction of the Temple occurred. In commemora­
tion, observant Jews fast, mourn while sitting on overturned
benches in a dimly lit synagogue, dress the Torah Scrolls in
black, and read from the Book of Lamentations. Although nei­
ther of the
knows much about the day, Yigael explains
to Elana the discrepancy between biblical and rabbinic accounts
of when the fast should be observed. He concludes by observing
that “Tisha b’Av makes no sense. There’s no need for it any­
more.” Jerusalem has been rebuilt and Israel has put an end
to Jewish exile. Moreover, the country’s never-ending wars dem­
onstrate that the Israeli army and not the biblical God, controls
Jewish destiny.
There are obvious tensions between the waiter and Yigael.
The waiter comments that Yigael’s father was lucky to leave
Warsaw prior to the
Yigael, however, responds by saying
that his father was not lucky, but smart. He was a Zionist. Con­
temptuous of the waiter, Yigael believed the man representative
of many survivors; undoubtedly deported without protest, un ­
failing in mumbling the blessing over a crust of moldy bread,
believing that heaps of naked corpses expressed the will of God.
After the waiter leaves, Yigael still hears the “scrape and clack
of his wooden soles: an echo from the past — like the man
himself . . . ”
Elana recites Uri’s favorite poem which sharply draws the
difference between the survivor’s faith and the Israelis’ death